Some call it the Venice of the North. Others call it the City of Ill Repute. I call it beautiful and home to part of my heart (along with almost every other city I’ve visited). This weekend in Amsterdam was easily one of my favorite trips of the program. Maybe it’s because there were no exams directly before or after the trip, but I’m not going to complain.
Friday started early in the morning with anticipation of a long day of travel. Taking the 8:00 train from Lyon to Bruxelles, and then the 12:00 train from Bruxelles to Amsterdam proved to be a taxing enough day for me. Mildly exhausted, I get off the train in Amsterdam to an unexpected surprise: it was pouring down rain. I brought my raincoat, fortunately, but my efforts proved unrewarding. Saturated as a sponge, I check in at the hostel and meet up with the rest of my group. With several hours of daylight left, we set out in search of the iconic “I Amsterdam” letters and the Vincent van Gogh museum. We were slightly miserable in the rain, but other people appeared to be too. The crowd at the letters was thin enough to actually be able to see them…mostly.
After some quick photos, we ran over to the Vincent van Gogh museum. We were a bit disappointed to discover that “Starry Night” is located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, but the museum contained over 200 works of van Gogh and dozens of other artists from which van Gogh was inspired. It offered a respectful history of his life, artwork, and mental decline. I snapped this illicit photo before realizing photography wasn’t allowed (such a rebel, I know).
My friends and I ate dinner at Aran Irish Pub, which was not too far from the hostel. Dinner consisted of a massive burger, fries, and a salad for only ten euros. We also added a glass of the seasonal beer on tap and a slice of homemade apple pie and cinnamon ice cream. The staff was very hospitable, but jokingly mocked me for taking photos of my food. Little did they know that they would be mentioned on my blog…The Belgium versus Wales soccer game began during dinner, so we stayed for a little while longer to watch the game with the locals.
After a rather interesting night of roommates entering the room very, very intoxicated (nobody from my party), we ate a quick breakfast at the hostel and headed out for the day. The first item on the agenda was a canal cruise, with discount tickets courtesy of our hostel. Much like Venice, Amsterdam has several canals that go through the city and over 200 bridges that span each one. The architecture of the canal-side houses is very interesting too: they are very narrow, tall, and sometimes a bit crooked. The windows would progressively get shorter in length as the height of the house increased, making the building look taller.
Following the canal cruise, we got a wild idea and rented bicycles for the afternoon. The weather was a bit drizzly at times, but it was mostly beautiful and sunny. We rode by several landmarks in the city, including the Anne Frank house and the Heineken beer factory, finally arriving at Vondelpark. The park was gorgeous and, like the rest of Amsterdam, was very conducive for bicycle riding. We rode through it for over an hour, just cycling and stopping to take pictures where appropriate.
We also stumbled upon a street cart making poffertjes, selling them by the dozen for only a euro. Basically, they’re baby pancakes, and they were as delicious as they were adorable.
After returning the bicycles, we made our way over to the Amsterdam Icebar: Xtracold. It’s exactly what you think it is: a bar literally made out of ice. It’s such a popular attraction that you need a reservation, which we got at a discount through the canal cruise company. The fifteen-euro reservation fee provided us with three drinks, but that wasn’t the best part…it was pirate themed (complete with the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack)! Upon arrival, you received three tokens: one for a drink in their lounge, and two for the actual ice bar. After thirty minutes in the lounge (and one drink called Sex on the Beach), we were called upon a quest by explorer Willem Barentsz to the North Pole. The crew suited us up with thermal gloves and a coat, and we entered the ice bar. Both my Heineken and orange juice (hey, I know my limits) were served in a glass made out of ice. This was easily the coolest experience of the trip!
The last item on the agenda was a stroll through Amsterdam’s most notorious area, the Red Light district. For those who don’t know, prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. After listening in on a tour and walking through a museum, we learned a bit about the area. The women are all self-employed (pimps are illegal), and there are a lot of safety regulations to protect them. Male prostitutes are not allowed to work alongside the women for a few reasons. Firstly, they did try it several years ago; however, the women working the street said it was cutting into their own business. It was shut down after only three hours, with nine customers all of which were male. Secondly, it’s to protect the female clients who hire them: the level of harassment of women is higher than those of men after a “business transaction.” There are male prostitutes, but they are in private brothels off of the main street.
Out of respect for the women, I did not take pictures.
After eating the tasty baby pancakes the previous day, we desired even more pancakes. We found the Old Dutch Pancake Kitchen, which served pancakes that were very similar to crepes and equally very delicious. Right outside the restaurant was the Amsterdam flower market, selling everything from tulip bulbs to grow-your-own bonsai kits. Although there weren’t many places selling live flowers, it was still fun to walk through and enjoy.
And that marks our last big weekend as a group. The study abroad program is slowly winding down, and final exams are approaching. Between five lab reports left to write, two final exams and a laboratory practicum, the end is near and we can all feel it. The sun hasn’t set on the horizon just yet: my friends and I have a short weekend adventure in Geneva, Switzerland next weekend. Until then, enjoy these lovely pictures from Amsterdam.